Residents fear their village could become isolated if plans to withdraw a “lifeline” bus service into Darlington town centre go ahead.
Bus operator Arriva has announced plans to withdraw the number 12 service in full from July 9 due to funding cuts. However, residents of Hurworth and Middleton St George heavily rely on the service as their only way of travelling into Darlington.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service visited Hurworth to speak to people who will be affected by the changes and those who are calling on the bus operator to reverse its decision.
For residents without access to a car or the elderly, who are unable to drive, the bus service is key to people’s everyday lives. Passengers say dozens of people use the 12 each day for supermarket shopping, dental and hospital appointments and social engagements in Darlington and further afield.
Andrew Thompson, who lives in the village, relies on the 12 bus through his disabled pass. “Losing the service would affect my independence and mental health as I would have to rely on other family or friends to do simple things,” he said. “I would even be prepared to pay a subsidy of 50p per journey and I am sure others in the village would too.
“A compromise of providing the service one per hour instead of two could surely be considered. Hurworth is an expanding village and to cut off the disabled, old and students of the village cannot be a good thing.”
The 12 service has been revised in recent years so that it only travels through the village westwards. And school and college pupils travelling to and from Darlington and the surrounding area are also worried about what the withdrawal could mean for their futures.
Lucy Ward relies on the bus everyday and without it - she doesn’t have a driver's licence yet - she wouldn’t be able to attend.
“As well as education reasons, I will also be isolated from my friends as I cannot get to town and they cannot get to the village,” said Lucy. “There are no safe roads for cycling and there’s no alternative public transport.”
“I understand that budget cuts need to be made but the number 12 is already staggered and often turns up late or not at all. Any alterations to the current timetable will be incredibly inconvenient to the members of the public.”
Arriva says withdrawing or making significant changes to bus services is “always a very last resort” and the difficult decision has been taken following “exhaustive efforts”, after failing to reach a funding agreement with the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).
Bill Drumm, of Hurworth Village Hall, said the cuts will be catastrophic for residents. “It’s the most appalling decision any company could ever take.
“The only shop you can access in Hurworth is the Spar but now residents are being held to ransom, where else can you go now? It’s just wrong on so many levels, it’s unbelievable.”
Liz Petty has lived in Hurworth for around 40 years, and while she acknowledges the issues bus operators are facing, she fears people will be marooned in the village. She added: “I agree that during the day some of the buses are underused but surely this isn’t a reason to cancel them. We are constantly told to cut down on reliance on cars and use public transport - and then our buses are pulled.”
For Angela Tovey and her elderly clients in the village, the bus is “literally a lifeline”. “I am more than happy to do absolutely anything to help,” she added. “Keep this bus route open.”
Arriva blamed TVCA for a 28 per cent cut in funding for the English National Concessionary Fares Scheme (ENCTS) - a programme which provides revenue reimbursement for carriage of free bus travel for eligible people to ensure operators aren’t financially worse off.
However, TVCA insists the changes are a commercial decision made by Arriva, not the authority and is determined to ensure passengers get value for money.
A spokesman said: “We put forward a fair settlement fully in line with our previous methodology and entirely within the scope of Government guidance, which Arriva refused to accept. Arriva is the outlier, as deals based on the same approach have been accepted by both Go North East and Stagecoach."